Thursday, September 29, 2011

New Season Viewing

I've tried a few of the season premieres, and I've already begun to weed out shows that (a) failed to click right away, or (b) no longer hold any appeal. Here's a synopsis of my viewing thus far:

(1) Playboy Club - an absolute disaster. This could have been a great ensemble cast show set against the backdrop of the changing mores of society in the 1960s, using the music and the cultural influence of Playboy as a pivotal plot element. Instead, the producers and writers tossed all of that out the window to turn this into a tawdry crime drama that seems like a sub-par version of Crime Story set in the 1960s.

(2) Terra Nova - I was more impressed than I expected. Spielberg has never been strong on subplots, so I figured this would be a straight-ahead story of colonists in a prehistoric environment; what I'm getting shows the influence of Lost and other complex science fantasy dramas, and in a good way. Characterization is a bit flat, but there's still time to remedy that.

(3) 2 Broke Girls - Attitudinal comedy with a heavy dollop of sarcasm throughout, this bawdy comedy appeals to me. The show's best asset? Cat Dennings, who plays Max; she's a pleasure to watch with enough credibility to carry off the mixture of raw and risque that defines this show.

(4) The New Girl - Adequate, although I find Zooey Deschanel best in very small doses. She always has struck me as both overly needy and aloof in every part she plays; she frequently fails to to convey either convincingly.

(5) Gray's Anatomy - It's done, whether the cast and producers know it or not. The characters have moved from quaint to unconventional to aggravating; the series has begun to sound like a continual whine, and I find their self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing approach to be so irritating that I'm just waiting for one of the show's crappus ex machina plot devices to wipe them all out.

(6) Two and a Half Men - I've said before that I'm a sucker for sitcoms, and this one has won me over. I enjoyed Ashton Kutcher on That Seventies Show, and I had decided even before Charlie Sheen's career suicide last spring that the show needed something to get it out of a rut. In the early seasons, Charlie Harper was roguishly appealing; in the later seasons, he was Michael Jackson-level pathetic, comedically dead. The show has been funnier in two episodes than it was all of last year. Biggest regret? Jennifer Bini Taylor, who played Chelsea in the last couple of seasons, is no longer in the cast; she brought a refreshing dose of maturity, sophistication, and elegance to every episode in which she appeared.

(7) Ringer - It's got Sara Michelle Gellar, so I'm going to watch it for a few episodes. I enjoyed it well enough, but the story seems more than a little contrived in places, and it amazes me that the same actress can play two roles, but she does such an unconvincing job portraying one character trying to play the part of the other.

(8) Unforgettable - It's not. The "I can play back my memories like a DVR, looking for details I didn't see at the time" approach is daffy, and it takes a way from the believability of the concept.

(9) The Middle - Still the best (and most underrated) family sitcom on television.

(10) The Big Bang Theory - A comedic highlight, and one of the few shows that I would actually watch live, commercials in all.

(11) Secret Circle - It should have remained a closely guarded secret...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Trilegiant Scam

So today I got a call from American Express wanting to verify some recent activity on my AmEx card. Charge from Games Workshop--check. Charge from Baker & Taylor--check. Charge from Amazon--check. Charge from Trilegiant--wait minute, who?

So while I'm telling AmEx I had not authorized a $1 charge from a company called Trilegiant, I'm also googling "Trilegiant" and "fraud." Google returns "about 34,500 results."

No, I didn't authorize the charge. But now I have to go to the trouble of changing my credit card number and notifying all my automatic charges that there's a new card. And I'm told that Trilegiant is working in conjunction with Wells Fargo to try to force customers with a WF bank account to pay for some fraud protection.

Oh goodie--fraudulent charges for unwanted fraud protection. (Bet it doesn't protect against themselves...)

Tomorrow I'm cancelling my Wells Fargo account; I only kept it for nostalgia purposes, since our very first account when we moved to Marietta was with First National Bank of Atlanta, which became First Atlanta, which became Wachovia, which became Wells Fargo. Now they've become Disreputable, so I'm dumping them and consolidating the funds in one of the two banks I do like--Ironstone and Community Bank of the South.

But you have to wonder why companies like Trilegiant are allowed to continue to operate...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

DC=Disappearing Comics!

Another week dominated by DC sales; customers who were worried about missing out on the DC's started to use our preorder system to pay for next week's books a week in advance, so in the past seven days so many copies of this week's releases were sold that we actually sold through a huge shipment of many DC titles in as little as three hours. Nightwing, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Catwoman, Captain Atom, Nightwing--all sold through before the end of the day. It's really phenomenal when you realize that we ordered a minimum of 5 times the title's prior sales (if it was a relaunch of an existing title, or of a title so similar we could use it for comparison).

Readers seem to be loving what they see in the DC books. I'm thrilled, both as a retailer and as a long-time DC fan who is glad to see others sharing my enthusiasm for the company's books.

We do have reorders on almost all of these titles coming in next Tuesday, so readers will still have a shot at first printings.

Next week is the first week that we were fully able to adjust our DC orders upwards on the entire weekly release list to ensure that our readers find what they want on our shelves. I'm thrilled; I've prided myself for years on the fact that at Dr. No's you can find the books on the shelves on Wednesday or Thursday or Friday or Saturday... and the success of these DC's has made that impossible. But it will be back to normal next Wednesday, and customers will be able to find that week's DCs on our shelves for an entire week and beyond.

Thanks for bearing with us during a really dynamic sales period--I really appreciate it!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender Be...

"Never loan anything you hope to get back."

Those words of advice, given to me by my father and echoed by several friends during the past decades, have turned out to be remarkably true.

I was looking over the list of people who have borrowed significant sums of money (triple digits or above, in fact) or significantly valuable items from me during my life, and I came to the surprising realization that in the past thirty years, only four people have thus far fully returned what was loaned.

Most have made only the most token of efforts to repay anything at all; two have even told me, "Well, you make more than me, so you can afford to do without the money more than I can," as if my willingness to help them at a moment of financial need was a duty on my part and not an attempt to assist.

Bearing Dad's advice in mind, I can't say I'm wholly surprised by this realization--but it's still surprising when I realize how many people who still owe me have no trouble coming with funds for other non-necessity expenses, but can't be bothered to make payments on their debts.

In some ways, I view it as a test of integrity; if I borrow from anything from a friend, I make a point of getting it back to them. If I borrow a book, I return it; if I damage it, I buy them a better copy. If I borrow money, I repay it without asking.

I'm still a little surprised by how few people operate the same way.

This Problem Bugs Me...

Last week we discovered evidence of termites in the basement storage room.

You can imagine how unthrilled I was by that news.

Now we have the Sentricon termite control system through Arrow Pest Control; I have never cared for Sentricon as much as the old system of pumping enough chemicals to kill off every insect within a quarter-mile radius, but it seems to be the system we're stuck with now that the EPA has set limits on the sort of mass termite extermination that pest control services used to consider standard.

(The old system pretty much put a barrier of death around every inch of the house wherever it came into contact with the ground; Sentricon uses a number of bait stations that are supposed to attract the termites, who'll eat the bait and then die. How good is it? Well, we never had termites at any of our houses under the old system. We've had Sentricon for three years, and we have termites. Go figure...)

Arrow sent someone out who took a look and said, "The bad news? You had termites. The good news? You had termites. Past tense. There's no sign of life there now." The termite specialist theorized that they had eaten some of the Sentricon bait (all of the Sentricon stations around our house are filled with bait rather, so any one of 'em is death on termites, apparently); however, before it did in the colony, they found their way into our house where they did some damage to about six feet of a framing 2x4 and some drywall. Their trail seems to stop there, and no poking or prodding on his part could reveal any evidence of active termites.

Nevertheless, Arrow drilled five holes into the basement floor and injected many gallons of termite-killing chemicals into the ground beneath the floor, then they resealed the holes with quick-drying concrete. That should take care of any termite colonies beneath the concrete floor, they said--and they assured me that there would be no problems with moisture seepage in the drill holes.

They also sent someone out to examine the damage; he made a list of what needs to be repaired, and he said that they would give it eight weeks to ensure that there's no sign of further activity, then they'd fix everything back just like it was.

So while I'm pretty unhappy to have had termites, I guess that this is the best outcome, all things considered. Now I'm just hoping I never find evidence of termites again!...

In the meantime, I'm all in favor of the legalization of chlordane...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

DC Domination

We're now five days into DC's first full-week New 52 launch, and the sales results have been overwhelming. I don't have national numbers, but I know that I'm hearing from dozens of my retailer friends who are scrambling to try to find copies of the books, which are selling out everywhere.

At Dr. No's we've sold out of 7 of the first 14 titles (Justice League shipped on 8/31, while the other 13 shipped on 9/7), in spite of the fact that our orders were 350%-600% what the same titles were selling pre-New 52 (when there were prior titles to compare). We ordered the lowest-selling book in quantities greater than what our best-selling pre-New 52 titles were selling, and yet many of those were gone by the weekend.

As early as September 1st, I could see that this was going to be bigger than I had anticipated, so I turned in advance orders for many of those books (although a couple were already sold out by that time) and I began upping my orders for 9/13, 9/20, and 9/27. The vagaries of comic book distribution (you don't want to get me started on that subject!) mean that we won't get most of those reorders until 9/20, however (unless Diamond manages to include reorders in our 9/13 reorder even though we won't be billed until 9/20).

No doubt about it--DC owns September 2011. And, having read all 14 books so far, I think the quality is strong enough that many of those readers will be coming back for the second issues.

(Just think--up until 8/30, we were selling all 52 first issues for a discount. Now, less than two weeks later, people--including fellow retailers--are offering significantly over over price if we can just find a copy of some of these books for them!)

A Life In Four Colors (Part Thirty-Four)

While my interest in comics had begun with an emphasis on DC, Marvel moved into greater prominence throughout the early 1960s. As I've mentioned before, the fact that I could actually accumulate a collection of every Marvel Silver Age superhero comic made a big difference; the collecting bug has always had an irresistible allure, and I have a strong completist attitude. By 1965, I had accumulated a complete collection of Marvel superhero books, from Fantastic Four #1 to the present, and that meant that I had to make a point of buying every Marvel from then on. After all, what good is a complete collection if one doesn't maintain it?

In 1965, my Marvel completist mentality led me to send in $1 to join the Merry Marvel Marching Society. For all intents and purposes, this was a Marvel fan club, although the benefits to its members (beyond the initial membership kit) were pretty minimal. Even so, I felt like I had to sign up, just to get that kit. It may not have been a comic book, but it was an official Marvel publication, after all.

When the envelope came in the mail, I tore into it right away and was thrilled with its contents. In an orange illustrated folder, I found an oversized MMMS button; a membership card; a certificate; a scratch pad with border trim depicting Marvel's characters... and best of all, a flexidisc featuring the actual voices of Marvel's creators!

As I mentioned a in Part Thirty-Three, I was becoming more aware of the people behind the comics; I had learned to recognize art styles, and could even tell the differences in some writers' storytellng styles. But this flexidisc added another dimension to the creators: a voice. Suddenly I could hear Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Don Heck and others as people, not merely names on a comic book page. I was enthralled; I must have played that record a hundred times in the first couple of months that I had it.

(What's a flexidisc, you ask? Oh, you CD-and-DVD-era music fans, you have no idea what you missed out on. A flexidisc is a vinyl record pressed in to a thin layer of flexibile, floppy plastic. The grooves are quite shallow, so the sound quality is quite mediocre--but flexidiscs were a boon for advertising and marketing, since they allowed low-cost recordings to be included as part of a marketing plan. Flexidiscs were included in magazines, in cereal boxes.... and in Merry Marvel Marching Society membership kits.)

Here's that recording, courtesy of YouTube:

The only Marvel Bullpen mainstay who doesn't speak on the recording is Steve Ditko; I thought it was just a bit of clever tomfoolery that they referenced his leaping out the window to avoid the microphone, not realizing that even then Ditko was relatively private and reclusive, preferring to let his work speak for him.

(As for my MMMS kit--I actually used very little of the scratch pad stationery; I just couldn't bring myself to waste a single sheet of it. As a result, my MMMS kit is almost complete to this day.)

A bit later, Marvel sent its MMMS members another flexidisc, this one featuring the Marvel Super Heroes theme song and a Merry Marvel Marching Society musical march. Both are hokey beyond belief, but I loved the kitschy, in-groupish feel of these records--I really did belong to the Merry Marvel Marching Society! Here's a YouTube link to that recording, accompanied by a few clips from the lowest-quality animation ever produced for television (but I watched every episode, even as I wondered how a Jack Kirby Hulk could leap into the air, while a Steve Ditko Hulk would land a moment later).

The MMMS was sheer genius on Marvel's part; the company had turned its size into an asset. Whereas DC seemed like a vast company producing a huge line of books, utilizing an army of talent and production staff, Marvel came across as your friends, a group of people who loved comics just as much as we did. There was a feeling of unity that DC never managed to cultivate (although they did have their own club, the Supermen of America, back in the 1950s and early 1960s, and I did actually join that group as well). And I suspect that every MMMS member became a Marvel completist.

Even better, Marvel found yet another way to encourage readers to join: they began printing lists of MMMS members in their comics! Send in your buck, get a membership kit, and at some point you'd see your name listed in a Marvel book.

I remain amazed at Stan Lee's promotional genius; long before the phrase "guerrilla marketing" was coined, Stan was doing that very thing, making Marvel the company you wanted not only to read, but to be a part of.

Maybe It's Not a Mall World After All...

Last Thursday, I had to go to Town Center Mall to pick up something for Susan. It was a Thursday evening, between 7:30 PM and 8:00 PM. I parked at my usual place--the east side, near the Macy's doors at the end of the mall.

There were seven cars parked in that section. I had never seen the mall so empty. The first three register stations I passed had employees there, but no customers. There were some people wandering the mall, but far less than normal... or at least, far less than what used to pass for normal.

Of course, my mall habits have changed over the years, so it's not surprising that others' habits have changed as well. During the 1980s and the 1990s, I don't think a week passed that Susan and I didn't go to one mall or the other, whether it was Town Center or Perimeter or Mount Berry Square in Rome. I realized that my trip to Town Center this past week was only the second time this year I have been to Town Center, and only the fourth time this year I have been to any mall. As the malls have ceased being the place where a shopper can find everything (look for a bookstore in most malls and you'll be sadly disappointed... the same holds true for electronics, or music, or the many unusual items that could once be found in the less travelled areas of most shopping malls), I have become more disinterested in what the malls still offer.

Of course, the changes in my own life make me less of a mall customer. I no longer teach, so I no longer have to invest in "work clothes." My wardrobe now comes from the nearby Target, or from an occasional trip to Kohl's. We're not furniture shoppers; our house is overfilled with more furniture than we need, because I can't bring myself to get rid of perfectly good chairs or sofas or tables. I am surrounded by a lifetime of conspicuous consumption.

Apparently, though, there is not another generation of consumers ready to follow in my footsteps at the local mall. I don't know if it's the byproduct of a struggling economy, or an indicator of changing habits that will mark the end of the high-density multi-store shopping mall as a mecca of capitalism. But Thursday night made it clear that the mall is no longer the hub of economic activity that it once was...

Maybe I Think Too Much...

The title comes from a Paul Simon song that has always struck a chord with me; while I've always seen the benefit of analysis, rumination, contemplation, and examination, I also think that there are times when one can indeed think too much. And I think that the growth of free information makes it all too difficult to fall into that trap.

I saw a photo recently of Bill Mumy and Jack Kirby; in the background of that photo was a set of Encyclopedia Britannica. I recognized those volumes because they were the same ones found in my high school library. I would have liked to have owned a set of my own, but that was out of the question for us--Brittanica cost far more than my parents could afford to invest in a set of reference books. Instead, we had a 26 volume set of encyclopedia purchased one book per week at a local grocery store as a promotion. They were wonderful books, and I read them and re-read them many times in my childhood; while they lacked the depth and sophistication of the Brittanica volumes, they still offered me a source of information at my fingertips.

Do people even by encyclopedia today? I would have to wonder why. The proliferation of free information on the internet has made paid information a tough sell; why spend hundreds of dollars on books when the same information can be found online at no cost whatsoever (and you don't need a large bookcase to hold the data, either)?

But free information comes with a cost; sometimes we become too accustomed to using it. Even mundane activities change. When I was younger, Susan and I would routinely watch a few minutes of a show to see if we had viewed it previously; now, I merely look up the episode online, scan the summary, and ascertain if it needs viewing or deleting. The spontaneity, the impulsiveness of life is diluted by the constant flow of information. I find myself checking my iPhone when I walk, hitting my RSS feed to see if the world has changed in any significant way in the fifteen minutes I've been walking. News used to be accessible in the morning and evening on television; in five minute intervals every hour on radio; once a day in the newspaper; and once a week in newsmagazines. Now news comes to us in a continual bombardment.

There is all too little blissful ignorance any more. We research everything, because the tools are always there. We investigate a restaurant before trying a meal there; we analyze others' reactions to a book or a film before reading it or viewing it; we sort through dozens of reviews and reactions before buying an appliance, trying a medication, sampling a beverage.

I think there are times when we enjoyed life more when information was more dear, and came in a more controlled flow at a higher price. The problem is, I've always been driven by curiosity, by a desire to know; as much as I see the down side of today's information excess, I'm not particularly willing to go back...

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Overwhelming Success

DC made comic book history at Dr. No's today. This was the first week that we received a full assortment of New 52 titles (13 books, including Action Comics, Animal Man, Batgirl, Batwing, Detective, Green Arrow, Hawk & Dove, Justice League International, Men of War, OMAC, Static Shock, Stormwatch, and Swamp Thing). That's a mix of standard superhero books, former Vertigo books with an occult angle, former WildStorm books with an edgier tone, and more real-world themed titles (in this case, a contemporary war book with only the slightest superhero angle).

Here's the part that made history: by the end of the day, the least-selling of the DC books (Men of War, the contemporary war series) had sold better than the best-selling non-DC, including any of this week's major Marvel titles (X-Men, Wolverine, Punisher, New Avengers Annual, X-23, Moon Knight, and X-Factor). The best-selling Marvel at Dr. No's today could only take 14th place!

Those of you who know comics well understand why I say this is historic; for years, Marvel has dominated the sales charts. DC's best books would take key positions in the top ten, but the average books were relegated to positions lower on the sales charts. Today, a non-franchise-character DC war book beat Marvel's biggest franchises, X-Men and Avengers.

Congratulations to DC! This is the sort of moment that makes you realize we're in the middle of a real transition in the marketplace, and DC's gamble is paying off right now. And after having had a chance to read all 13, I think readers are going to like what they see and will be back for the second issues of most of these books as well.

Monday, September 05, 2011

When the Rain Comes...

Today it rained for the first time in twenty days. And it actually rained a lot--about 2" at my house, according to the rain gauge. I had a chance to walk in a gentle drizzle this morning, and I walked in a steady rain this afternoon; it reminded me how much I enjoy walking in rain. There's something pleasantly isolating about the rainfall; most people stay indoors, so I'm pretty much alone for the entire walk, shielded by an umbrella. Since I don't want to risk getting rain on my iPhone, I keep it tucked away, so my attention is totally focused on the walk, the rain, and whatever introspective ruminations cross my mind.

I also loved it that the weather responded almost as if it could read calendars: today was Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer, so the weather immediately went into an early Georgia autumn mode--highs in the mid-70s, no blazing sun, lows in the 60s. (This is one of the many reasons why I think that starting school later rather than earlier is the right thing to do; I didn't realize until recently that Cobb County still has no air conditioned buses for the kids who rely on county transportation. Can you imagine spending a half an hour to an hour in a big metal and glass box with no A/C and inadequate ventilation? But that's just what Cobb County Schools students do through most of the month of August...)

If all goes according to forecast, I have an entire week of highs in the 70s to look forward to; the rain may be over by tomorrow morning, but the hint of early Georgia autumn continues! Maybe it's time to keep my iPhone holstered for a week and just enjoy the outdoors again!...

Friday, September 02, 2011

Truth About Justice and the Comic Book Way

Well, DC brought an end to one era on Wednesday with Flashpoint #5--and they began another with Justice League #1.

And gauging from the reader response at Dr. No's lots of people are interested in seeing what's happening with this new DC.

There's no doubt that Justice League #1 was the book of the day--we sold almost twice as many copies of that title on Wednesday as we did of Flashpoint #1, the second-best-selling title of the day. Nothing else came close--every other book was flotsam in the wake of the Justice League and Flashpoint. And those two were pretty much all that readers were talking about.

It was interesting to see so much buzz about a brand-new comic book; suddenly it felt like we were back in the early 1990s, when customers rushed to come in on Wednesday and buy their comics because they just couldn't wait until the weekend. Our transaction totals were up significantly because of the increased traffic, and that's great news--it means that we sold a lot of copies to a lot of different customers, which is the best news of all. Sure, you make the same money selling ten copies to one customer as you do selling ten copies to ten customers, but the latter can potentially create ten readers, which is what I'd prefer.

Best of all, several people who went home and read the book subsequently contacted us to say, "could you pull the first issues of all those new DC series for me? I think I want to try them all and see how they are."

It's a great week for DC, and a great week for comics.